My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jacob Wonderbar has one of the coolest log-lines I’ve ever seen: “Space travel is all fun and games until someone breaks the universe.”
That sentence sets the tone of this zany novel for young people, ages 9 and up. Jacob – general troublemaker and the terror of substitute teachers – and his friends, Dexter and Sarah, buy a spaceship from a disgruntled alien for a corn dog and set off for adventures in outer space.
In trying to prevent their spaceship from crashing, they fire a missile that causes a chain reaction of explosions across the universe (which Jacob dubs “the spilled milky way”), which blocks the path to Earth. Miraculously, no one is injured, no inhabited worlds destroyed, but in the words of two cosmic police officers the kids just caused a “big mess.” Unfortunately, that mess will prevent them from returning home for one or two thousand years (according to a construction worker when they try to head home), and there is no detour around the chaos.
The novel contains a pirate, a planet that smells like burp breath and has a day one minute long, a planet populated by scientists, a planet populated by substitute teachers, and a king of the universe.
Nathan Bransford is a former literary agent whose blog is an excellent resource for readers, writers, and anyone remotely interested in the publishing industry. I’ve been looking forward to reading Jacob Wonderbar ever since Nathan blogged that he’d sold it. I like the book, kids in the tween and early teen years will like it, and adults who are fans of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (which I am) will like it.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Please Look After Mom is a must-read. Told from the viewpoints of four people – a daughter, a son, a husband, and Mom herself – it is about a family’s reactions to Mom’s disappearance at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea. The family reports Mom’s disappearance to the police, and they post fliers asking if anyone has seen this woman. At first they get a few calls, but soon the calls stop coming. It is as if Mom has vanished into thin air.
But the search for Mom is only a loose framework on which hangs a story of self-discovery as each viewpoint character reflects on what Mom meant to him or her. Please Look After Mom is full of surprises. It is a character-driven story that engaged me from page one, and I highly recommend it.
Kyung-sook Shin is one of South Korea’s most popular novelists and has won many literary awards for her work. My only disappointment is that Please Look After Mom is the only book by this exceptional writer to be translated into English. I hope it does well enough so there are more to come (as of this date it is number 27 on the New York Times best seller list).
This is in response to a blog post in which Laura L. Cooper suggested that the popularity of ebooks will plateau within a few years and that ebooks will never replace physical books.
I’ve already seen a response or two to that post, one person comparing ebooks to automobiles; no one ever thought cars would catch on, either. I agree with that assessment.
One certain thing is change. Technology will change, culture with change, people will change.
I started writing on a Remington portable typewriter. When I was in high school, the school had a computer. A computer. It was kept in a room in the office. We were taken down in groups to look at it.
At that time, who could have predicted how computers would permeate our society?
Who could have predicted that automobiles would replace horses and carriages?
Who could have predicted that big-box stores would replace neighborhood groceries, dry goods, and hardware stores?
Ebooks are not a passing fad. They have many advantages over physical books:
People today (and this will be even more true in the future) are pressed for time, they are mobile, they like to do all their shopping in one place, and they are impatient – they want something, and they want it now. This is why the big-box stores like Wal-Mart and ShopKo have become such fixtures in our society. This is why computer technology is an integral part of our lives. This is why we drive cars instead hitching horses to buggies.
For now, many people prefer physical books; printed books still account for 80% or more of book sales. At one time you could make a similar statement about the horse and buggy in relation to that upstart, the automobile.
Today, physical books are the choice of the majority of readers. But let’s revisit this question in 100 years.
Ebooks are not a passing fad. The popularity of ebooks will not plateau.
Ebooks represent the next stage in the evolution of publishing.
For those of you who prefer to curl up with a good book rather than a cold, emotionless digital reading device, my novel In Human Form is now available as a trade paperback for $14.95. The ebook, however, is regularly priced at $2.99 (but is specially priced at $.99 through May 31, 2011; enter coupon code BN99Y). The excellent cover for In Human Form, like the excellent and creepy cover for The Moaning Rocks, was designed by Joleene Naylor, who also has written several novels.
This is In Human Form in a nutshell:
Wendy Konicka survives a mysterious fire that destroys her home and kills her father. When she awakens three days later, her memory is gone. She doesn’t even remember that she is an android and that the man known in the community as her father was her creator. And the few around her who have learned her secret keep it from her, misleading her to think she is human – which puts Wendy and the people she has grown close to in danger from ruthless conspiracy theorist Earl Vaughn.
For those of you who prefer a physical book, rather than digital, The Moaning Rocks and other stories is now available as a trade paperback. At $12.95 it’s a bit more expensive than the eBook because a paper book has significant manufacturing expenses compared to a digital book, which doesn’t. Remember, the eBook is still at a special introductory price of $0.99 until May 31, 2011, at which time it will revert to its regular price of $2.99. To get the special price enter coupon code SH37D.
The Moaning Rocks and other stories contains 13 short stories and 1 novelette ranging from the commonplace to the bizarre. This collection showcases a wide range of my storytelling including contemporary, science fiction, and horror. Following each story is the my commentary on how it came to be written.
From the back cover of the paperback edition:
…and 10 other stories.
Some of the stories have been previously published, and others appear for the first time in this collection.
As little as a decade ago self-publishing was a stigma. The industry and the public viewed it as something one did out of desperation, when one could not get one’s books published by traditional means.
In the past few years, particularly with the growing popularity of e-books, that has been changing. And now thriller writer Barry Eisler, author of the popular John Rain novels, has given self-publishing a tremendous boost. Eisler turned down Minotaur’s $500,000 offer for two books and plans to self-publish his next novel as an e-book because, he said, he believes in the long run self-publishing will be more financially lucrative.
In a conversation with self-publishing guru Joe Konrath, Eisler talks about his reasons for his decision. It’s a lengthy conversation but well worth the time for anyone who is considering self-publishing.
A Republican-controlled House panel has voted to repeal the new FCC rules that would prevent cable and phone companies from dominating the Internet by setting priorities for web traffic. This would result in slower load times for competing services and for smaller websites that can’t afford to pay to have their priorities upgraded. It would be a major blow for free speech on the Internet, with a few major communications companies dictating what websites the rest of us are allowed to access. We could, technically, still access any websites we wanted, but we would become frustrated with the long wait times and click on to something more “user-friendly.”
The reason for repealing this rule, according to the Republicans, is that it would prevent the big cable companies from making costly upgrades to their networks. That is not true. We have had net neutrality since the Internet was opened to commercial traffic in the mid-1990s; it hasn’t prevented the big communications companies from upgrading during that time, and it’s unlikely that making net neutrality the law now will prevent them from making future upgrades. If they want to be competitive, they’ll upgrade. That’s the way it’s always been in business, even before the Internet, and that’s the way it will always be.
For a more detailed look at the panel’s decision see the Huffington Post article.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I put off reading this novel for more than a year because it is massive, 1,074 pages in hardcover. But I may have temporarily forgot that Under The Dome was written by Stephen King, who, in his own words, likes to write with “the pedal to the metal.”
Under The Dome has all the earmarks of a Stephen King novel: violence, massive destruction, sexuality (much of it perverted), and a deliciously depraved villain. It also has a cast of characters so large that King lists the main ones (in categories, no less) at the front of the book for easy reference. He also gives us a map of Chester’s Mill, Maine (the sock-shaped town, population 2,000, where the story takes place) showing the major landmarks in the novel.
The hero is Dale “Barbie” Barbara, a disillusioned ex-army officer (he has been the cook at the Sweetbriar Rose restaurant for the past few months) who is on his way out of town when the Dome comes down. I won’t tell you what the dome is or why it comes down. Suffice it to say that Barbie is trapped, which is inconvenient. He was leaving because of bad blood between him and some of the town’s young punks, particularly Junior Rennie, the son of Big Jim Rennie, used car dealer and one of the town’s three selectmen.
Big Jim uses the dome to assert his leadership. The town needs a leader to keep order now that it is cut off from the rest of the world, and why shouldn’t that leader be Big Jim? The only problem is that Barbie manages to get a call out to his former commander, Colonel Cox, who promotes him to Colonel and puts him in charge of the situation.
This doesn’t sit well with Big Jim as he embarks upon his mission to take over the town with the help of his “special” police officers. These are the town thugs who will do what Big Jim tells them, using whatever force is necessary (or even unnecessary) to keep the citizenry in line. Barbie and the friends he’s made since coming to town are the major obstacles in the way of Big Jim’s goal. They must be silenced, discredited, and/or killed to prevent them from interfering with Big Jim’s plans. He implements those plans through deceit, general skullduggery and even murder to turn the townspeople against Barbie and, as King calls them, the expatriates.
Under The Dome may be a massive novel, but it is a page-turner, right up though the electrifying climax and conclusion. I highly (double highly) recommend it.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Although I was a fan of the John Wayne movie based on this novel, I’d never read the book before. When the latest film incarnation with Jeff Bridges was released, I dug up a copy of the novel and read it before going to see the movie.
The critics were right. The Coen brothers version does follow the novel more closely than the first movie, particularly in some key spots that I won’t tell you about. I hate giving things away.
There is, however, one major section where the story departs from the book, and I can’t figure out why. There is no reason structurally or story-wise that it should be changed (even the John Wayne version followed the novel here). I won’t tell you which part it is, either. But it really doesn’t make that big of difference. It’s just odd, and I actually do like the Jeff Bridges True Grit better than the John Wayne version. And Matt Damon, who plays LaBoeuf in the Coen brothers version, is a better actor than Glen Campbell. Sorry, Glen. Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Mattie Ross, also gives a commendable performance in her first major motion picture role.
Enough prattling about the movies. The book is an easy and an enjoyable read with strong characters and action. It is one of those genre novels that rises above its genre. I highly recommend it.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you like Steven King’s novels, you’ll like Full Dark, No Stars. King is a master of the shorter form. I highly recommend this collection.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As a young boy, Ray Bradbury was fascinated with the planet Mars. Many kids – and even many adults – in the early 20th Century were fascinated with Mars. It was our nearest neighbor, coming as close as 35 million miles of Earth. It had green patches that could be vegetation, it had white polar caps (ice?) that appeared to shrink and grow with the seasons, and some astronomers claimed to see lines (straight lines, indicating that they were made by intelligent beings) which they called canals. What a wealth of imagination for young boys – and science fiction writers.
During the 1940s, Bradbury expressed his fascination with Mars in a series of stories, several of which he later collected into The Martian Chronicles (1950). But The Martian Chronicles is more than a collection of related stories. It is an allegory depicting the settlement of a world, obviously paralleling the settlement of the New World by the Europeans, conquering the Native Americans and taming the western wilderness. The novel also depicts the decline of human settlement on Mars. To help this collection of stories work as a novel with a unified theme, Bradbury wrote a number of bridge passages to ease the transition between stories.
I won’t say too much about the plot. For those of you who haven’t read it, I don’t want to give anything away. I wouldn’t call The Martian Chronicles science fiction. Even at the time Bradbury wrote these stories, scientists were pretty much in agreement that the Martian environment was too harsh to support human life. Bradbury never cared much about the science, which is probably why some hard core science fiction readers don’t care for him. He has always been more interested in showing what kind of trouble we can get into if we don’t use technology responsibly. According to Bradbury:
“It is all too easy for an emotionalist to go astray in the eyes of the scientific, and surely my work could never serve as a handbook for mathematicians. Somehow, though, I am compensated by allowing myself to believe that while the scientific expert can tell you the exact size, location, pulse, musculature and color of the heart, we emotionalists can find and touch it quicker.”*
So if you can get past the fudging over the science and enjoy the fantasy/allegorical aspect of The Martian Chronicles, this book has lots to say and is a must read.
*From The Ray Bradbury Companion by William F. Nolan (Detroit: Gale Research, 1975), p. 70.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Lincoln may have freed the slaves in 1863,but that only changed the nature of African Americans’ enslavement in the south. They got paid for their work, but their paychecks were much smaller than the paychecks of white people doing the same type of work–sometimes, as in the case of sharecroppers, they would be lucky to do more than break even, and sometimes they ended up owing the planters whose land they worked. Black people could not vote, they had to step off the sidewalk if a white person was coming, they had to look down when talking to white people, and black men had to be especially careful not to look at white women. Lynchings were commonplace, and no court in the south would convict a white man for killing a black man.
This was the life for freed black people living in the south for more than 100 years, until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s began gathering steam and resulted in key court cases and legislation that eventually killed the Jim Crow laws.
Many African Americans left the south, heading north and west, in search of better lives. Beginning as a trickle about 1915, it soon became a flood and finally petered out about 1975, when southern society was changing enough that blacks didn’t feel that it was urgent for them to leave to seek better lives.
The Warmth of Other Suns is the story of The Great Migration, focusing on three immigrants who took three different routes–George Swanson Starling to New York, Ida Mae Gladney to Chicago, and Robert Pershing Foster to Los Angeles. George Starling left when he got word that he might be lynched, Ida Mae Gladney and her husband George were sharecroppers who wanted a better life, and Robert P. Foster was a surgeon who left so he could practice his profession without restrictions dictated by the color barrier.
But the north was not the land of milk and honey many blacks expected it would be. There was still racial tension and discrimination, but of a different variety, and Wilkerson does a good job of covering the struggles the immigrants had while starting their new lives.
Wilkerson, whose parents migrated from the south and who was the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism (in 1994), spent about 15 years researching this book, conducted more than 1,200 interviews, and retraced the routes taken by Starling, Gladney, and Foster.
The Warmth of Other Suns is a history buff’s dream. It is a readable and informative book about a period that changed the face of this country. I highly recommend it.
The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.
A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.
In 2010, there were 41 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 40 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 7mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.
The busiest day of the year was June 4th with 96 views. The most popular post that day was Signing in the Waldenbooks by Parnell Hall.
The top referring sites in 2010 were mail.yahoo.com, google.com, twitter.com, mail.live.com, and facebook.com.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for famous jobs, day jobs of famous writers, claudia procula letter, famous author rejections, and “harlan ellison”.
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
Signing in the Waldenbooks by Parnell Hall June 2010
Day Jobs of Famous Writers Before They Were Famous June 2010
Rejections of Famous Authors Before they were Famous April 2010
Unconscious Writing: Putting the Subconscious to Work July 2010
Yesterday, as was widely expected, the FCC passed the new regulations governing the Internet–the same regs that Sen. Al Franken called “worst than nothing.” Newsweek technology editor Dan Lyons in his article The Internet Splits in Two suggests that we’re entering into Phase Two of Internet technology, which he compares to the growing pains of television – for example, cable vs. rabbit ears. The new regs probably will be challenged in court, and they may be tweaked – or they may not be, which wouldn’t be good for writers, researchers, or for folks with Websites and blogs who can not afford to buy priority placement in the pecking order. As Lyons suggests in his article, which I encourage you to read in full, expect these costs to be passed on to consumers, who will end up paying more for a crappier product. Sen. Al Franken in his Huffington Post article today, The Internet as we Know it is Still at Risk does offer a ray of hope for the future of Net Neutrality.
To keep up on the Net Neutrality issue: savetheinternet.com.
I’ve written an overview of the Net Neutrality issue in an earlier post, Net Neutrality: Keeping the Internet Free. Tomorrow the FCC will meet to discuss Internet regulations. Senator Al Franken doesn’t believe the draft regulations go far enough. In fact, he calls them “worse than nothing.” Rather than try to summarize what Sen. Franken says, I urge you to read his Huffington Post article, The Most Important Free Speech Issue of Our Time.
When I was a novice writer I lived for editorial comments. Occasionally they came, scrawled on a standard form rejection slip, just a few words to let me know if I was on the right track, if what I was writing was any good. I would bet that most aspiring writers long for that coveted editorial critique.
Receiving editorial comments is great, but keep them in perspective. Fiction editing is a very subjective business, and what one editor doesn’t like, another might rave about.
I’ll give you a few examples from editorial comments I’ve received over the years.
“Keeper of the Shrine”
MY NOTES: I took this story back to my Beta Reader, an English Professor at the University of Nebraska. He re-read it, and we decided that I should change the title (“Of Life, Death, and Spiders” seemed a bit pompous), but I shouldn’t touch the symbolism because we believed it was right for a story like this (and apparently two other readers at Prairie Schooner agreed.)
“That Time of Year”
“The Moaning Rocks”
MY NOTES: Unfortunately, by April Antithesis had ceased publication, so the story went out on the submission trail again. It garnered a wide variety of comments – mostly positive, some not, but most editors to whom I submitted commented on it. I published it finally in October Dreams: A Harvest of Horror. Also, note that Fantasy Macabre liked the “blending of legend and impending doom,” but Shadows wondered if the legend is “really necessary at all” because it “telegraphed” the ending. The part about telegraphing the ending may be true for some readers, but I know of one reader who was so startled by the ending that she threw the book across the room.
The point of all this is that editors are just readers, and stories strike every reader differently. As I hope I’ve illustrated with these editorial comments, one editor may like something about a story while another may dismiss the same thing. It is nice to get editorial comments because they are a window into how others – particularly, others who read stories for a living – view what you write.
But the best advice was given by the editor of Prairie Schooner in her comments on “Keeper of the Shrine:” “. . . I assume you’re sufficiently experienced as a writer to understand the comment in context.” If you have any questions about your work in view of an editor’s comment, take it back to your readers – and every writer should have a few readers he or she can trust to give honest feedback – and ask them if they think the the story might be improved if you followed the editor’s advice.
Some things you may choose to change, other things you may choose to leave alone. But take editorial comments in the spirit they are given: as one person’s reaction to your story. The next person’s reaction might be completely different.
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” – Ray Bradbury
Contrary to popular belief, having a college degree does not mean you’re educated. A degree is only the beginning of your education, the first tiny step. Education is a lifelong commitment. This is true for everyone but is especially true for writers.
Fortunately, I discovered this when I was in college. About midway through my course of study I took a good look at what I was learning. I was reading lots of books, writing lots of papers, and taking lots of tests. But what I really wanted to learn was how to analyze data and reach conclusions. I wanted to learning how to think. And the curriculum wasn’t helping me accomplish that goal.
I enrolled in the honors program, and under the supervision of a professor in the English Department, I undertook a research project which culminated in a thesis entitled Ray Bradbury: Space Age Visionary. I re-read all of Bradbury’s early work, analyzed it, and drew my own conclusions about it. The project was a good exercise in thinking for myself.
But even the thesis is only a beginning. I consciously made the decision not to pursue a graduate degree because I believed it would hamper my learning. Getting a degree is fine if y0u want to go into a particular line of work, like teaching, engineering, or business, etc. But you don’t need a degree to be a writer – the subject of my thesis, Ray Bradbury, only graduated from high school.
To be a writer you need a curiosity about everything, a hunger to learn how the world works, and a drive to understand people and why they do the things they do. You satiate this hunger by absorbing everything you can, soaking up information like a sponge. Read on a variety of topics, listen to a variety of music, watch films and TV, have new experiences, meet a variety of people, get out of your comfort zone once in a while.
There is an old Chinese parable about obtaining enlightenment – Imagine a palace with a beautiful courtyard. A young man peers through a tiny hole in the door, but he can’t see the whole courtyard at once. In middle-age he looks out on the courtyard through a small window; although he can see more, his view still is hampered. But as an old man he has thrown open the door and stands on the balcony where he can see the entire courtyard and beyond.
This illustrates the learning process throughout our lives; as we expand out horizons, the view becomes more clear.
To paraphrase Bradbury, stuff yourself with everything. The key is to continue to grow for the rest of your life by doing all the things I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago. Don’t become stuck in time; continue to evolve. For writers, you can’t write about life thoroughly unless you strive to understand it – you never will understand it completely, but the important thing is that you continue to expand your world. For everyone else, the non-writers, you need to keep expanding your world or your world will become a cramped, cold place.
To understand our world and to change it for the better we must remember that a formal institution of learning cannot give us an education. Teachers and mentors can point the way, but ultimately we are all responsible for what we learn, and our education is a life-long commitment.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is an exceptional novel.
It is a character-driven story about 15-year-old Virginia Shreves who feels that she doesn’t fit in – not at school and especially not with her own family. Her mother is an adolescent psychologist who does not practice what she preaches. Her father is a little less rigid, but he’s a high-powered manager.
Both of Virginia’s parents are workaholics and leave her to fend for herself most of the time. She idolizes her older brother – who is a chick magnet – and wishes she were more like her older sister, who has joined the Peace Corps (much to her mother’s chagrin) and is working in Africa.
All of Virginia’s family are dark-haired and thin. Virginia is blond and has a weight problem, due in large part to comfort eating.
Then something devastating happens that changes the entire family dynamic (I won’t tell you what it is; it’s a crucial turning point and best if you discover it for yourselves), and puts Virginia on the road to making major changes in her life.
The characters are well-delineated – especially Virginia, who gets inside your head the way that few characters do. Even the minor characters have their quirks, like Alyssa Wu who knits all the time to keep from fidgeting, and the math teacher Mr. Mooney, who forgets formulas but who remembers a plethora of old songs that he associates with names (“Carry me back to old Virginny . . . “) and sings whenever he interacts with students – much to the students’ mortification.
Although The Earth, My Butt & Other Big Round Things is technically a young adult novel it can be enjoyed at any age. An excellent read. I recommend it highly.
This is a fun question:
If you could be any character in a book, who would it be?
I’ll go first. I thought long and hard on this, but my mind kept coming back to Huckleberry Finn. I’m not much of an outdoors dude, and I suppose I could swim–er, dog paddle–well enough to avoid drowning, depending on how rough the water is (actually, before taking a plunge into the Mississippi River, I would be sure to put my affairs in order). But what’s the point of being a fictional character if you don’t acquire that character’s traits?
Huck is an independent fellow. He’s not afraid to go anywhere and do anything. And he’s very liberal-minded for the time in which he lives. Plus, he doesn’t have many worries – except the possibility of being “sivilized” by the Widow Douglas – and what trouble he gets himself into he’s pretty confident he can get himself out of.
Now it’s your turn. Who would you be and why?
On most magazines’ Submission Guidelines page, the editor suggests reading a few issues to see what type of stories they publish. While it’s a good idea to be familiar with the magazine to which you’re submitting, sometimes this can be taken too far.
I’m talking about slanting a story to fit a magazine, an editor, or an audience. Early in my writing career I read lots of articles about how to slant stories to fill editorial needs. Many of them suggested dissecting a magazine, taking note of such things as:
Many even suggested taking notes on the percentage of the magazine devoted to advertising, and what kind of products are advertised. A writer of one of those how-to-slant articles told about how he dissected Good Housekeeping in this way, wrote a story for the magazine, and they bought it.
But I am reminded of the late Richard McKenna, author of The Sand Pebbles. When he was trying to break into print, he decided that he wanted to write for the Saturday Evening Post. He analyzed several copies and started submitting stories. The Post rejected the stories, so he sent them to other magazines. On rejecting the stories, those editors included notes that were a variation of this: “This is so much like a Post story, we wonder that you haven’t tried them.”
As you probably have gathered by now, I’m not a big fan of slanting. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to know a publication well enough so you don’t send a western to a mystery magazine or a science fiction story to a woman’s magazine (unless you know that the woman’s magazine publishes SF). And you do need to take certain things into consideration – don’t send a woman’s romance to a man’s magazine, for instance – but those things are easy enough to see; no heavy analysis required.
One of my objections to slanting is illustrated by the Richard McKenna story. No matter how well you slant a story to a particular magazine, its acceptance is not guaranteed. There are lots of reasons editors reject stories, and “not being right for us” is only one of them. If your story is rejected you’ll have to substantially revise it before you submit it to the next editor, and the one after that, and the one after that … And that’s a lot of work. It’s also not being true to yourself or your craft.
Which brings me to the most important reason for not slanting – if I jump through hoops to write a story for an editor, I’m ignoring my inner voice, which is screaming: “No! No! That doesn’t make sense. You’ve got to write it this way.” Stories can often be written several ways, but a few of those ways are better than others. You must trust your instinct. The way you write your story must come out of you; it must not come out of an attempt to make it acceptable to a particular editor.
That’s a tough way to go because it may mean that a lot of what you write is not what other writers are writing, so you may collect more than a few rejection slips. But it is how you write your best fiction, by being true to yourself.
Ray Bradbury had an awful time breaking into print. One of the reasons is that he wrote stories his way, which was not the way many editors wanted them. He succeeded because he was a disciplined and prolific writer (he wrote a story a week), and he started selling a story here and there. Soon he developed a following, and readers – and editors – looked for his work. Many of the other pulp writers of the Forties have long since been forgotten, but we remember Bradbury and other writers who were true to their inner voices.
Think of the best stories you’ve ever read. How many of them are standard, run-of-the-mill stuff? I would be willing to bet the stories that stick in your mind have a fresh, a different perspective. And that can only happen when the author is true to himself or herself.
So my advice is to write first, then find a market for what you write. Remain true to your inner voice, and you will be published, and you will write lasting work.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is not what you may think it is, namely the “war is hell” theme or “we’re fighting for our country” mantra. War is not a political book. The reasons for the war and whether it is right or wrong, the author says, is left for politicians to haggle over.
Between June 2007 and June 2008, journalist Sebastian Junger made five trips to the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. He was “embedded” with American troops, meaning that he was “entirely dependent on the U.S. military for food, shelter, security, and transportation.”
The Korengal Valley is a particularly bad place to be in terms of fighting, and the Taliban proved to be an unconventional fighting force.
For instance, the Taliban would pay a teenager $5 to go up in the hills and start shooting at an American outpost. When the Americans returned fire the teenager would put down his weapon and disappear down the back side of the hill. The Americans knew about this stunt, but they had to waste an entire afternoon and lots of manpower to make sure it was a stunt and not a real “firefight.”
The Taliban would also leave weapons lying at various points in the hills. They would walk unarmed through villages – often past American soldiers – up into the hills, pick up the weapons and start shooting.
War focuses on the soldiers, the bond among them, and their thoughts about what they do and why they do it. As I mentioned earlier, the big picture of why we are in Afghanistan, as far as the troops are concerned, is something for the politicians to argue about. They are fighting to that they can go on living and so that their buddies can go on living.
This book shows how war changes people, for better and for worse. It has made me examine my preconceived ideas about our troops, and I highly recommend it for everyone. Those of you, like myself, who have never seen combat will gain a new perspective on war and the men and women who fight.
I try to avoid politics on this blog, but occasionally I make an exception when it’s a topic of vital importance to writers. The Google-Verizon deal is one of those topics.
In a nutshell, Verizon is agreeing to give Google priority on its systems over all other Internet traffic. According to the New York Times, the agreement “could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.”
If other corporate giants hammer out similar deals–and the Verizon-Google contract is all the precedent they need–it would be the death knell of Net (network) Neutrality. Net Neutrality means that all Websites are treated equally. No Website–from Google with all of its ramifications down to Uncle Joe’s blog on wheat grass–is deemed more important than any other; the users determine the importance of any particular Website.
According to savetheinternet.com: “The consequences of a world without Net Neutrality would be devastating. Innovation would be stifled, competition limited, and access to information restricted. Consumer choice and the free market would be sacrificed to the interests of a few corporations.”
Josh Silver, President of Free Press, writes in Huffington Post that “the [Verizon-Google] deal marks the beginning of the end of the Internet as you know it.” Later in the same article Silver says:
“A non-neutral Internet means that companies like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Google can turn the Net into cable TV and pick winners and losers online … Ending Net Neutrality would end the revolutionary potential that any website can act as a television or radio network. It would spell the end of our opportunity to wrest access and distribution of media content away from the handful of massive media corporations that currently control the television and radio dial.”
In a New York Times article Edward Wyatt writes:
“Cable and telephone companies want free rein to sell specialized services like ‘paid prioritization,’ which would speed some content to users more quickly for a fee. Wireless companies, meanwhile, want no restrictions on wireless broadband, which they see as a different technology than Internet service over wires.”
If you think this is all abstract and may not affect you, let’s bring it a little closer to home. Are you a Twitter or Facebook user? If Net Neutrality goes, those applications most-likely would go as well; Google has similar products which would be given priority. Do you blog on WordPress? Google has Blogger, which would elbow out WordPress.
Why is Net Neutrality in danger? According to Silver: “We have a pro-industry FCC Chairman who is terrified of making a decision … a president who promised to ‘take a back seat to no one on Net Neutrality’ yet remains silent … a congress that is nearly completely captured by industry.”
Net Neutrality has been called “the first amendment issue of this generation.” It must be protected.
Every writer, reader, and Internet user has a stake in Net Neutrality. For more information and to find out what you can do to make a difference, read the complete New York Times and Josh Silver articles and visit savetheinternet.com.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you are interested in Biblical history and archeology, you’ll like this little booklet. The story leading up to the Crucifixion of Jesus is well-known, but then the Bible says nothing more about Pontius Pilate and his wife, Claudia Procula.
In Relics of Repentance, Biblical researcher James F. Forcucci tries to shed some light on events that were overshadowed by the formation of the Christian movement.
Relics is built around A Letter From Pontius Pilate’s Wife, translated by journalist Catherine van Dyke and first published in 1929. The letter is said to have been written by Claudia Procula to her friend, Fulvia, several years after the Crucifixion. The letter fills in some blank spots in the lives of Claudia and Pilate both before and after the Crucifixion.
To flesh out the story, editor Forcucci also has culled from various sources several letters purportedly written by Pilate as well as an excerpt from The Gospel of Nicodemus (formerly The Acts of Pilate).
For more information about Relics, check out http://issanapress.tripod.com/
Infidel is the story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, born a Muslim in Somalia and raised in Africa and Saudi Arabia. At the age of 22 she sought asylum in the Netherlands to escape a marriage her father had arranged to a distant cousin she had never met.
She became a Dutch citizen and earned a degree in political science, and in the thirteen years she lived in the Netherlands she fought to open the eyes of the west to the plight of Muslim women, first as a writer and speaker, and later as a member of Parliament.
What is most striking about this book is Ali’s courage in fleeing her family, in chipping away at beliefs she’d once held sacred, and finally in speaking out about the many injustices of a system where everything a people do or are expected to do is dictated by directives written down more than a thousand years ago.
I highly recommend this eye-opening memoir.